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Old January 31st, 2008, 06:17 PM   #1
hkskyline
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Bamboo Is Tough, Eco-Building Material

Bamboo Is Tough, Eco-Building Material
30 January 2008

GIRARDOT, Colombia (AP) - Forget steel and concrete. The building material of choice for the 21st century might just be bamboo.

This hollow-stemmed grass isn't just for flimsy tropical huts any more -- it's getting outsized attention in the world of serious architecture. From Hawaii to Vietnam, it's used to build everything from luxury homes and holiday resorts to churches and bridges.

Boosters call it "vegetal steel," with clear environmental appeal. Lighter than steel but five times stronger than concrete, bamboo is native to every continent except Europe and Antarctica.

And unlike slow-to-harvest timber, bamboo's woody stalks can shoot up several feet a day, absorbing four times as much world-warming carbon dioxide.

"The relationship to weight and resistance is the best in the world. Anything built with steel, I can do in bamboo faster and just as cheaply," said Colombian architect Simon Velez, who almost single-handedly thrust to the vanguard of design a material previously associated with woven mats and Andean pan pipes.

Velez created the largest bamboo structure ever built: the 55,200-square-foot Nomadic Museum, a temporary building that recently debuted in Mexico City and takes up half of the Zocalo, Latin America's largest plaza.

The museum, open until May, is the brainchild of Canadian artist Gregory Colbert, who wanted a monumental structure built entirely of renewable resources to house his tapestry-sized photos of humans interacting in dreamlike sequence with animals.

He turned to Velez, who two decades ago made a simple discovery.

By using small amounts of bolted mortar at the joints -- instead of traditional lashing methods with vines or rope -- he was able for the first time to fully leverage the natural strength and flexibility of guadua, a thick Colombian bamboo, to build cathedrallike vaults and 28-foot cantilever roofs capable of supporting 11 tons.

Curing the stalks with a borax-based solution deterred termites.

He perfected his technique on hundreds of projects, mostly in Colombia but also in Brazil, India and Germany with structures as graceful as they are muscular.

In steamy Girardot, a two-hour drive from his bamboo home in Bogota, the 58-year-old Velez has just completed a prototype of an energy-saving store for French retail giant Carrefour.

The 21,500-square-feet structure has a domed roof made of guadua -- instead of sun-absorbing metal -- that will cut down on air conditioning costs. In Bali, German Joerg Stamm applied the same technique -- learned as an apprentice to Velez -- in constructing a 160-foot bridge strong enough to hold a truck.

But Velez, the son and grandson of architects who grew up in a Bauhaus-inspired glass house in western Colombia, has little patience for environmentalists now drawn to his work for its planet-saving possibilities.

"I hate environmentalists. Like all fundamentalists, they just want to save the world," he says.

For this iconoclast who designs exclusively in freehand, bamboo is foremost a high-tech material.

Seismic testing of bamboo seems to back his claim. After years developing construction codes for bamboo in his lab in the Netherlands, Jules Janssen was in Costa Rica in 1991 when a deadly 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck. Touring the epicenter hours later, he found every brick and concrete building had collapsed.

"But 20 bamboo structures built there by coincidence held up marvelously. There wasn't a single crack," said Janssen, a civil engineer and expert on bamboo's physical properties.

In an age of diminishing resources and burgeoning populations, bamboo's environmental and social benefits are its biggest selling point as construction material.

Unlike steel, which is produced in only a handful of industrialized nations, more than 1,100 bamboo species -- a few dozen of them suitable for building -- proliferate in the tropics. Culms, or stalks, shoot up almost anywhere, easing carbon dioxide's choke on the planet while absorbing water as efficiently as a desert cactus.

But building with bamboo is labor intensive and can be costly in parts of the world, depending on local supply.

Velez estimates that 80 percent of his costs on any project go to paying the 300 specialized craftsmen who follow him around the world, most recently to Guangdong province, China, where he built the country's first commercial bamboo project, the award-winning Crosswaters Ecolodge for tourism.

Bamboo's abundance is, ironically, an obstacle to wider acceptance. Its most visible use is as rickety, makeshift housing -- feeding the stereotype that it is poor man's lumber.

That hasn't stopped David Sands. The Hawaii-based architect creates Robinson Crusoe revival homes in Vietnam then ships them in panels around the world for quick assembly.

After building a hundred homes in Hawaii and a resort in Bali, his Bamboo Technologies company is aiming for the U.S. mainland, where its challenges include insulating against colder temperatures and coping with uninformed building inspectors.

But in a sure sign that bamboo's time may have come, Sands says he's had to turn down a $20 million unsolicited offer for his company from potential investors.

"It came as a total shock. We're not ready for the kind of scale they were proposing," Sands said, laughing.

The world's bamboo crops may not be ready either -- there are few commercial bamboo farms to meet a growing demand, and the United Nations in 2004 warned that as many as half of all wild species may be in danger of extinction due to forest loss.

For the Nomadic Museum, Velez had to ship 9,000 pieces of guadua to Mexico, undercutting much of the material's "grow your own house" mystique.

But shortages may also be filled as bamboo plywood -- already a major industry in China -- gains acceptance in the United States and Europe, and growers rush to meet the demand.

"The rate at which it grows is amazing," says Raul de Villafranca, consultant for Agromod, a Mexican company that is planting 9,880 acres in the southern state of Chiapas. "In one year, you can harvest stalks 15 meters (50 feet) tall, and unlike hardwood, it never needs to be replanted."

San Francisco architect Darrel DeBoer, who specializes in sustainable materials, says bamboo-framed structures buttressed by earth or straw bale are viable in any climate, once isolated from the elements with a proper foundation.

But he says bamboo has the potential to make its greatest impact where its already found.

"If you can afford the high price of land in the states, you're not going to worry about using low-cost building materials," says DeBoer, who has hosted several workshops with Velez. "In contrast, the developing countries around the tropics need affordable housing, and the jobs that building with bamboo can generate."

--------

On the Net:

http://www.ashesandsnow.org
http://www.bambootechnologies.com
http://www.deboerarchitects.com/BambooThoughts
http://www.bamboocentral.org
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Old January 31st, 2008, 10:29 PM   #2
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very interesting article, thx for posting. i like bamboo much more than steel, it is a great material!
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Old February 1st, 2008, 10:20 AM   #3
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Bamboo is often used for scaffolding in Hong Kong.

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Old February 2nd, 2008, 07:51 AM   #4
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in The Time Machine movie, there is this very interesting city in the future where bamboo houses are built hanging on cliffs.
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Old February 2nd, 2008, 01:42 PM   #5
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Good bye pandas.
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Old February 5th, 2008, 07:21 PM   #6
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Related - green construction :

Insurers Paying to Rebuild Greener Homes
8 January 2008

NEW YORK (AP) - Sean Walsh returned to his mother's San Diego home after the October wildfires to find it charred to its foundation. He says he plans to help her rebuild the trilevel, five-bedroom abode -- happily used to host 19 grandkids -- exactly as it was, only greener.

Two major insurers are launching "green" insurance programs that will let homeowners reconstruct their property with more environmentally friendly building materials, appliances and landscaping, even if it costs more than the replacement value stated in the policy.

One major insurer, Fireman's Fund, is launching its "green" insurance program in Southern California at no extra charge to its clients who were hurt by a dozen wildfires that killed seven people and destroyed nearly 2,200 homes in October. And Lexington Insurance Co. is testing a new "green" policy in a handful of East Coast states.

Both programs are expected to be launched nationwide in 2008.

"It ties back into our view about climate change," said Scott Steinmetz, Fireman's director for personal insurance and catastrophe management.

Spurring clients to rebuild to greener standards is an insurer's hedge against climate change, and the worse and more frequent natural disasters that could be brought on by warming global temperatures, Steinmetz said.

So-called green insurance products are also a way for insurers to hook a consumer market that has grown increasingly conscious of environmental issues. The budding residential green building market is forecast to grow to $40 billion to $50 billion by 2010 from $7.4 billion today, according to a construction report by McGraw-Hill Cos.

"This has emerged as a new way to attract and retain customers," said David Valzania, vice president of personal lines at Lexington, a unit of American International Group Inc. "We're seizing on what we see as a significantly growing green movement."

Sean Walsh's mother, Patricia, has a policy from Fireman's Insurance, and Sean says he plans to use the green upgrade program to make the new home more environmentally sound, with a particular focus on fire safety. Patricia Walsh's $2.3 million home, which she and her late husband John, bought two years ago, was built in the 1980s and remodeled in 2000.

It had some fire-retardant materials in it, Walsh said. "The unfortunate part was that this fire was so hot and so fast."

The new home will likely be built with wood framing that is forest stewardship-certified, which means it has been grown and harvested sustainably. The house will be outfitted with more efficient plumbing fixtures and solar paneling -- ways to save utility costs and resources in water- and energy-strapped Southern California.

"My parents had looked at going solar, even before this happened," Walsh said. "We had a lot of problems with rolling blackouts. It's expensive to do, but it does pay for itself.

"When your house is that big, your electric bill is a big cost, your water bill is a huge cost," he said. "It's a huge savings down the road."

Fireman's is offering other types of green upgrades, as well, including paying for less chemical-heavy paints and carpeting, flooring made from eco-friendly bamboo and energy-efficient appliances, heating and cooling systems -- even if those upgrades cost more.

Fireman's Chief Underwriting Officer Don Soss estimates greener appliances and building materials will cost his company 15 percent to 30 percent more than conventional products, depending on the market. The company's green upgrade program will be free to its California clients affected by the fire, pending approval by state regulators.

Fireman's, which belongs to Germany's Allianz SE, plans to roll out a similar product nationwide in the U.S. early next year, at an as yet undecided additional cost.

Lexington expects to sell its "Upgrade to Green Residential" policy at a 2 percent to 3 percent premium to its basic homeowner policy.

Typically, insurers only pay damages to make clients whole again -- not to improve their position, said Valzania. "This is taking it quite a bit further."

Although green products may be sold initially at a premium in some areas, in the future, homeowners who build to greener standards may be seen as lower risks and could be rewarded with insurance discounts or credits. That's already happening on the commercial building side and in auto insurance, where insurers in some states are offering breaks to hybrid-car drivers.

"Some insurers perceive a 'halo effect' in which adopters of climate-change mitigation technologies are viewed as low-risk customers," according to a report by the nonprofit research group Ceres, called "Insurer Responses to Climate Change." Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, a group of 60 institutional investors that collectively manage more than $4 trillion in assets.

Such a halo hasn't happened yet in residential green insurance because the market is still too new, say insurers.

In the woods outside Aspen, Colo., Barbara Reese built a house of renewable straw bale, powered entirely by solar energy. The lime plaster-covered straw provides insulation, a substitute for conventional fiberglass. Solar panels and a back-up generator provide electricity, since Reese isn't plugged into the local grid.

Reese's building methods were unconventional, but the home was constructed with insurance risk in mind, said Michelle Johnson, a Neil-Garing Insurance Agency broker who helped get Reese's home insured by AIG's private client group. The private client group, which caters to wealthy individuals, has always been more willing to insure different homes.

"I built the home and built it off grid because I wanted to be kinder to Mother Nature," Reese said. "I wanted to live my life in accordance with my beliefs."
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Old February 5th, 2008, 07:29 PM   #7
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Good bye pandas.
lol, good one.
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Old February 6th, 2008, 05:44 AM   #8
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Bamboo actually grows very quickly, much quicker than the average tree. It can also be re-used for scaffolding (which is a major consumption source), hence don't think it'll lead to deforestation problems at all.
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Old February 8th, 2008, 10:22 PM   #9
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Depends on how great the demand eventually becomes.
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Old February 8th, 2008, 10:51 PM   #10
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Depends on how great the demand eventually becomes.
1,3 billions people asking bamboos to built, pandas will not be afraid (in zoo)...
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Old April 30th, 2008, 03:39 AM   #11
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Stronger Than Steel
Bamboo may be the world’s greenest raw material
Architects and bicycle designers are catching on

21 April 2008
Newsweek International

For the opening race of the Eastern U.S. collegiate cycling season, Nick Frey, a junior at Princeton, had a brand-new bike. Frey, currently the under-23 national time-trial champion and a recent hire of the Time Pro Cycling Team, had left his state-of-the-art, $13,000 carbon-fiber team bike at home. What he brought instead—and what was drawing a steady crowd of disbelieving collegiate cyclists on that chilly March morning—was an even more recent model: a racing bike he and friends had made out of bamboo.

Frey and pioneers beyond the bike world are discovering that bamboo may be the most useful raw material ever to be overlooked. Although a common building material in many tropical countries, it’s considered “the poor man’s timber,” and in the West it’s mainly decorative. As the world goes green, however, bamboo’s essential qualities are beginning to win converts. Environmental organizations are promoting its use as a building material, architects are putting it into green homes, and makers of flooring, furniture and now bikes are quietly setting up their industries for a bamboo revolution.

Despite its lowly reputation, bamboo may be the strongest stuff on the planet. It has greater tensile strength (or resistance to being pulled apart) than steel, and it withstands compression better than concrete. Both qualities are essential to keeping the plant, which grows to nearly 60 meters but is only as wide at the base as the very top, from falling over. It needs the compression strength to hold up its own weight and tensile strength to bend in the wind without breaking. “Our concept of strength is, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t break,” says Dan Smith, who owns Smith & Fong, the largest manufacturer of bamboo plywood in the United States. “The Chinese concept is, you’ve got to bend with things. If you don’t bend, you break. Bamboo’s strength is in its ability to bend, and that’s the miracle.”

The Western mind is also opening to bamboo’s environmental qualities. In both temperate and tropical climates, it grows as quickly and abundantly as a weed. Though most often used as an alternative to timber, bamboo, with its underground rhizome root system that continually regenerates the plant when the stalks are cut, is technically a type of grass. In fact, it grows faster than any other grass—in some conditions well over a meter a day. It also produces 35 percent more oxygen from carbon dioxide than trees and more effectively binds soil to prevent erosion.

Designers are getting more creative as they embrace bamboo as an alternative to lumber. Environmentalist architect Michael McDonough has incorporated bamboo in his two working prototypes for sustainable housing, e-House and ArcHouse. E-House has all-bamboo floors and cabinetry. A stalk of bamboo becomes a finer version of plywood once it’s split from the top and milled into smooth strips. ArcHouse, a modular home, has an exterior made from double panels of bamboo oriented strandboard—bamboo strips compressed and cross-positioned for strength— and insulated with foam made from the oil of orange peels. The panels seal tighter than conventional insulation, and McDonough is the first to replace wood strandboard with bamboo. “It’s dinosaur grass,” he says, yet it’s pushing the engineering curve.

Bamboo is still a niche material in the United States, but it’s catching on. Smith & Fong first cracked the markets in 1989 with flooring and, later, a laminated bamboo sheet called “plyboo.” Sales grew at an average of 26 percent a year until 2003, then accelerated to nearly 40 percent three years ago. The company now has 30 types of flooring and 60 options in plyboo, and has begun engineering gymnasium floors and bamboo structural beams. Bambu, a U.S. maker of housewares that are distributed by Whole Foods, has begun to draw attention at its plant and showroom in Shanghai.

Bike designer Craig Calfee says it’s only a matter of time before bamboo sweeps the bike-racing world, and he should know. Calfee, owner of Calfee Design in California, pioneered the use of carbon fiber, the gold standard for elite bicycle frames since the 1990s. Now he says bamboo may be superior, offering a better combination of stiffness (for power efficiency) and compliance (for vibration dampening). Sales of his $2,700 bamboo road frame grew at just under 10 percent in 2005 but more than 33 percent in 2007—a trend that echoes the sales growth of Calfee’s carbon frames in the late ’90s.

Frey and three engineering students are picking up Calfee’s torch, aiming to refine the design and reduce the price. Riding a bamboo bike, says Frey, “is like wearing comfortable loafers and having the efficiency of track spikes.” It’s a technological wonder—that nature already built.
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Old May 3rd, 2008, 12:28 AM   #12
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Hong Kong's been using bamboo ever since i can remember...
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Old May 3rd, 2008, 03:09 PM   #13
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Seems interesting , but also seems one more idea that compromises the environment, like biodiesel.
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Old May 4th, 2008, 03:36 PM   #14
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Seems interesting , but also seems one more idea that compromises the environment, like biodiesel.
It's very interesting... never new that baboo is stronger than steel. And I agree with you, to really solve the issue they would need to invent some non-scarce materials.
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Old August 1st, 2010, 05:11 PM   #15
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